Beef with Barbecue Regulations Comes to a Halt

All battles must come to an end, even the most Texan of all: barbecue. On June 1, 2017, Governor Abbott signed H.B. 2029, exempting food scales for food sold for immediate consumption from needing to be inspected by the state. This included those delicious slabs of meat on that iconic butcher paper, along with scales found at yogurt shops and buffet-style restaurants. Before the bill, the Texas Agriculture Code required all businesses that sold items by weight to have scales certified and inspected by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) and to make the inspection stickers visible to consumers.[1]

The battle of the barbecue began in December 2015 with Operation Maverick. With $1.5 million from the state to kick-start enforcement and new fee hikes in place for the Weights and Measures program, the TDA launched Operation Maverick to crack down on barbecue joints (among others) that wanted to tip the scale in their favor. After sending letters to barbecue restaurants all over the state urging them to certify and register their scales, a team of badged inspectors were sent across the Lone Star State to check for compliance. Although it’d be nice to travel Texas inspecting scales and eating some smoked brisket, these inspections caught some pitmasters by surprise. Operation Maverick rekindled enforcement of a long-standing rule that had been largely forgotten and rarely enforced by the state.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller encouraged Governor Abbott to veto the bill. He said, “I trust my local barbecue guy, but I still want to see that when I buy a pound of sausage I’m getting a pound of sausage.”[2]

However, Representative J.M. Lozano of Kingsville, who authored the bill, said the state inspections are too burdensome for these restaurants.[3] The Texas Restaurant Association called the need for a restaurant to have a certified visible to the customer antiquated and unnecessary.[4] Additionally, the need for certified scales is superfluous because restaurants are regularly inspected by the local health department.[5] These inspectors often check to make sure that the weight of food served corresponds to what is advertised.

Moreover, there are already fraud laws that could handle complaints about deceptive barbecue joint owners. Besides, do barbecue proprietors even try to shortchange customers by the pound? Texas Politifact thinks not.[6] According to the TDA-provided spreadsheet, agency inspectors tagged and shut down scales in only seven restaurants in 2015-16.[7]

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[1] Tex. Agric. Code §§13.101, 13.1011 (2015).

[2] Sid Miller, When It Comes to Barbecue, Trust but Verify, TribTalk, May 23, 2017.

[3] Daniel Vaughn, Weighing Options for the Barbecue Bill, Texas Monthly, June 1, 2017.

[4] Texas Restaurant Association, Weights and Scales in Restaurants.

[5] Id.

[6] W. Gardner Selby, Do Texas Restaurants Often Shortchange on Barbecue by the Pound? Records Suggest Not, Politifact, May 25, 2017.

[7] Id.

flickr image by Carlos Pacheco is licensed under CC by 2.0